“Witch With No Name” App Review

A-Witch-With-No-Name

It was with some trepidation that I offered up the app The Witch with No Name to my six year old. Anyone with a six-year-old will know why – one minute they are asking to take a bunch of cuddly toys to bed with them, the next they eschew anything that isn’t aimed at teenagers at the very least.

And I feared that the Witch With No Name would be dismissed as ‘babyish’ from the off. But surprisingly, despite its lack of branding, ‘rude’ words and toilet humour, it has been a big hit.

The premise of what is essentially an interactive storybook, is that the witch has to set off in search of her name, and along the way needs to pick up some key ingredients and other items (including a stinky sock and a giant’s nosehair – now I see why this was so appealing to my six-year-old!) to make this happen. The storybook is cute, with some neat interactive features and fun games to play.

The games range from target throwing, to puzzles and matching games – and the levels can be set to accommodate children from the ages of four to 10.

If you like a game where your child will be stimulated in a variety of different ways, with different mini-games and puzzles that will get them thinking, as well as entertaining them while you’re waiting in a long queue or in the car, this is a pretty good choice. It has the added bonus that it can be read in French or English, which adds an extra educational dimension to the whole thing.

Plus there’s a great surprise at the end – but I won’t spoil that for you!

The app is available for iOS and Android at $4.99.

The kitchen that teaches you French

Okay, so we have long had it drummed into us that French chefs are the best in the world and British cuisine is utterly comical – especially our gravy. But really, a kitchen that teaches you French? Is this going just a step too far?

French-Kitchen

Don’t worry chaps, it’s not some subtle Gallic ploy to convert us all in Francophiles – no, in fact it has been developed by a team of computer scientists and language experts at Newcastle university (which strikes us as being a bit more Hairy Bikers than Jean-Christophe Novelli, but hey).

The kitchen tracks your actions with motion-sensor technology (rather like a Nintendo Wii) and speaks to you like a sat-nav device, while you prepare your classic French dish.

It builds on the provem technique (we’re taking the language experts’ word on this!) of Task-Basd Language Leraning (TBLL), where students are prompted by instructions in a foreign language to carry out specified tasks. TBLL has never been used in cooking before – but given its enormous popularity in rei Bake-Off, Hairy Bikers, River Cottage et al) it is hardly surprising that the boffins came up with the idea.

On a tablet or laptop computer incorporated into the kitchen, the user first selects the French recipe they want to follow. Digital sensors built into utensils, ingredient containers and other equipment then communicate with the computer to make sure the right instructions are given at the right time, or to give feedback to the user if they go wrong.

At any time, the user can ask for an instruction or a piece of information to be repeated, or translated into English, simply by pressing the touch screen.

All grammar and vocabulary has been carefully selected to ensure that using the kitchen adds to basic proficiency in understanding French.

After a session, the user can test what they have learnt by carrying out a short test on the computer.

The kitchen has been designed to be installed in schools and universities – even in homes. It has been trialled in the catering kitchens at Newcastle College.

The kitchen is slated for release by the end of 2012 – and portable versions are already being taken out on the road to be demonstrated at schools in the North East. One will be installed at the Institut Francais, a London charity dedicated to teaching the French language.

For more details head to www.youtube.com/user/EPSRCvideo?feature=mhum)

Rosetta Stone language learning software

A common New Year’s resolution is to learn a new language, but few of us can up sticks and move to a new country to surround ourselves in the target language. Fortunately we can throw technology at the problem.

Rosetta Stone uses technology to replicate the way we all learnt our first language as children, with a systematic sequence of language and images in context – but no translation.

Rosetta-Stone

I’ve spent a lot of time in language schools in my time – and the tedium of drilling grammar is very, very familiar. Whilst unquestionably effective (I can still conjugate Latin verbs like a badass) the ability to do so in later life, when not formally bound to a school class system and with life repeatedly getting in the way.

Rosetta Stone, whilst still rigorous, bypasses at lot of the conventional language learning and instead is a little more … insidious. The picture matching system teaches you grammar, and can be incredibly demanding when it comes to pronunciation as your sentences are graded against a native speaker’s and you don’t progress to the next level until you nail it. But it never feels as tedious as doing lines in a text book. It’s not … fun… but it is much less of a chore than conventional language learning. You have time based chunks of language skills which you can practice – which is pretty neat as you can do a 5 or ten minute burst of listening, or a full comprehensive hour of language practice.

The Rosetta Stone also comes with a set of audio companion packs that enable your learning to continue away from the desktop. Annoyingly this is as far as the mobile learning experience goes (although to be fair you can log into their website from most desktops) but in an ideal world I’ve love to be able to log into the Rosetta Stone experience from my smartphone or tablet and work through some sessions on the go. The team assure me something is being hatched as we speak.

The languages available in Version 3 are: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, English (British), English (American), Filipino (Tagalog), French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Spanish (Latin America), Spanish (Spain), Swedish, Turkish and Vietnamese.

For further information, visit www.RosettaStone.co.uk, or call 0800 2800 927.

4 Top “Back to School” gadgets for a new term

It is that time of year again where parents pay out huge amounts of money so their children can have the latest and greatest for the new school year. We also have the university students who are soon to be off in the big bad world. I can say with absolute certainty if I had just a handful of the gadgets available for students when I was at university, my life would have been so much easier. Well here are some gadgets to help you along the way whether you are preparing for your GCSEs or degree.

Samsung-e60

I don’t know about you, but my textbooks were enormous. Right at the top of my wish-list at university would have been an e-reader. Instead of breaking your back why not have all your textbooks on an e-reader? Most publishers are now providing digital textbooks. Samsung have released the Samsung E60, available from WH Smith, to rival Amazon’s Kindle. With 2GB of storage and Wi-Fi access, you can read books in PDF, TXT and ePub formats. The memory is expandable to 16GB. It also comes with a MP3 player and organiser. You can annotate books and newspapers and images by writing them. For students, this would great feature to add notes while in lectures. At £199 it is more pricey than the Kindle but for students, the ability to annotate books is vital.

smartpen

Livescribe have released the Echo Smartpen. Echo, the successor to the Pulse smartpen, records audio and everything you write at the same time so you never have to miss anything from your classes. Built-in speakers can play back your recorded audio and you can transfer notes and audio to your computer using the USB connection. It captures everything you write using an infrared camera in the replaceable ink tip. It comes in 4GB and 8GB sizes enabling it to hold 400 or 800 hours of audio. You can use customizable Livescribe applications allowing you can write and email by hand or even write a word down and hear the translation in Japanese. The Echo is available from Amazon where the 8GB will cost £180 and the 4GB costs £160. A handy little time-saving gadget.

Rosetta-Stone

Language students should check out the Rosetta Stone, which attempts to recreate immersion – one of the best ways to learn a language. The Rosetta Stone is a software or Flash based web service that tests your reading, writing, speaking and listening. Each skill is broken into short little chunks – so you can do a 10 minute writing lesson, or a 5 minute listening test, making it ideal for a busy student lifestyle. The whole course is carried out in the target language – forcing you to learn and hammering home grammar and vocab until you get it. However the Flash based nature of the website means there are certain portable devices (iOS ones most notably) that won’t run, making it a little less flexible than it could be. However the Rosetta Stone people have assured us that they have noticed the relentless march of apps and are working on some mobile solutions.

appschool

Our top application to help with your studies is iStudiez Pro. Student life can be hectic juggling different classes and knowing your homework deadlines. iStudiez Pro offers a detailed schedule planner and a daily calendar view of your classes for the day and what homework is due in. You can view by week or month to plan ahead. Push notifications will alert you to any upcoming classes and tasks. Courses can easily be setup for a term and labelled with colours. This app will always ensure you are where you meant to be.

Remember: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Good luck!